A shroud of smoke circled Wizard Island in the lake’s caldera, blown in from wildfires in the Bend area, including the 100,000-acre Boxcar fire near Maupin.
It’s like a touch of August coming to Southern Oregon during the first official weekend of summer, providing a grim reminder that the outdoor life often taken for granted here isn’t a gimme during the often unpredictable and increasingly smoky summer wildfire season.
The summer recreation season here increasingly gets cut short by hazardous air days that send hikers, bikers and oarsmen indoors during what should be their outdoor vacation heydays.
And this phenomenon isn’t created just by local fires.
Like the Boxcar fire, smoke from conflagrations in other regions can be carried by prevailing winds and dumped into the Rogue Valley, packed in by mountains on three sides.
So now is the time to break out these traditional summer outdoor activities. If you put them off until later in the summer, bad-air days might keep you indoors.
Float the Rogue River
The Rogue Valley’s namesake is such a prominent aspect of the region, yet surprisingly large numbers of area residents — even natives — have spent little or no time exploring it.
Various rafting companies offer guided trips through the Gold Hill section, which includes Nugget Falls and Ti’lomikh Falls, and hiring guides might be the safest way to conquer Rogue whitewater.
Those with a modicum of experience can head upstream to Shady Cove, where numerous liveries rent inflatable rafts and kayaks for unguided floats from Cole Rivers Hatchery down to Shady Cove Park.
Many Rogue Valley residents consider these floats their go-to adventure when triple-digit temperatures descend, but paddling is no cheap thrill when the smoke hangs low.
Rowing a driftboat is no picnic in the smoke either, so these early weeks of July should include a fishing trip or two on the Rogue River.
The spring chinook salmon season is in its final weeks on the upper Rogue upstream of Dodge Bridge, where chinook angling ends July 31. This is also the early portion of the Rogue’s famed summer steehead run, which starts with a bang and lingers well into the noel season.
Fish for spring chinook early in the morning or summer steelhead on casual evening floats.
Hike Grizzly Peak
This 5.7-mile loop trail along an ancient volcanic vent is one of the signature hikes around the Rogue Valley. Part of the trail travels through 2003’s East Antelope fire zone, a not-so-subtle reminder of the regular role fire plays in Southern Oregon’s ecosystem.
The trail is loaded with panoramic views of the region’s mountains as well as across Ashland and other aspects of the southern Bear Creek watershed.
To get there, take Dead Indian Memorial Road to Shale City Road, which takes you to the trailhead.
Strike up the band
One piece of Americana continues to thrive in Lithia Park on summer Thursday nights.
The Ashland City Band is a collection of more than 80 volunteers who treat those on the bandshell lawn to a free one-hour concert at 7 p.m. each Thursday through Aug. 16, traditionally ending with a John Philip Sousa march.
Smoke has led to concert cancellations as recently as 2013.
Go chase waterfalls
The Highway 230 stretch from Union Creek toward Diamond Lake is loaded with waterfalls along the far upper Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River and some of its tributaries, such as Muir Creek.
Last summer, wildfires in the Cascades triggered public closures to portions of the Pacific Crest Trail as well as stretches of Highway 230 northwest of its junction with Highway 62. That blocks access to several of the waterfalls on the regular circuit, including the picturesque National Creek Falls along the Jackson/Douglas county line.